Jesse Abbott has been on football sidelines for years, spending 13 seasons on the coaching staff at Fulton, his alma mater, before joining Chuck Milem for a year at Erie-Prophetstown.
But in the fall, Abbott will be on the sideline in a new role, as he takes over the Panthers in his first job as a varsity head football coach.
After years of teaching in Fulton, he took a job last fall with the Erie district, where his wife, Amanda, is also teaching.
“It was more a move to Erie professionally and I wanted to stay coaching football,” Abbott said. “Chuck gave me my first real involvement at the varsity level. I had never planned on being a head coach, but as time went on, it seemed to be the next step.”
Abbott played for and later coached under Jim Proud at Fulton, and remained with the Steamers when Patrick Lower took over in 2007.
“He’s a very good man, a role model,” Proud said. “He’ll expect his kids to follow the rules. He’s dedicated to whatever he does. I think he’ll be a good asset to the program. I know he has high principles, and he’ll take that to the game.”
Between Proud, Lower and Milem, Abbott got a chance to work with coaches who have combined for more than 200 wins. But the example he hopes to follow from coaches he has worked for is one set off the field.
“One of the things that really stands out in [Lower and Milem] is how much they care about kids, how much they’re involved in the athletes as more than just players,” Abbott said. “Once of the first things Coach Lower told me was ‘you have to coach with love.’ I can think of example after example that once [players] knew those guys cared, they became more of a player.”
Milem, who was 34-60 in 10 years with the Panthers, is leaving the coaching ranks to become the principal at Macomb High School. He sees in his successor someone who brings a lot of experience to the Erie-Prophetstown program.
“He’s been around the right football guys and the right football minds,” Milem said. “The good thing about Jesse is that he’s passionate about it.”
Abbott has been able to bounce ideas off of both Milem and Lower (though not talking tactics too much with Lower since the Panthers and Steamers will meet Week 9), and in turn learned just how busy the schedule of a head coach can be.
“I think that part of it, stepping in so late in the game, there was just so much to get ready by the time school was done, things like equipment, paperwork to players, paperwork for camp,” Abbott said.
In coaches he has worked under, Abbott sees bits and pieces of several different systems he would like to implement with Erie-Prophetstown. He said on the offensive side, he wants to tailor a system to the players he has.
On the other side of the ball, he hopes a more aggressive approach can help turn things around from a year ago, when the Panthers allowed 304 points and opposing teams scored at least 23 in eight of the nine games, the only exception being a shutout victory over winless Sherrard.
“I like and I’ve always been a proponent of an attacking style of defense, not a sit and read,” he said. “I think you’ll see more movement prior to the snap on the defense, but that’s a work in progress right now. I’m more of an offensive-minded person.”
Milem said that the year Abbott spent as an assistant at E-P will prove to be an asset, as he is familiar with the Panthers players who will be on the field in the fall. He said his advice for the first-time varsity head coach would be “just get out there and relationship build. It’s still a people game and it’s about building kids up and fighting for them and advocating for kids. You can’t lose track of that.”